Saturday, December 29

Movie Review: Les Miserables Perfection in its Imperfections

With an epic tale carrying a built-in audience- (and critic-) base of 60+ million, Les Miserables is an epic-size gamble. A gamble that has obviously paid off already according to the dollar followers. Is it Oscar-caliber? Certainly director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) has got the chatterboxes going...

And the actors?

So often, particularly in movies with fun-to-love-or-hate side characters, there is a runaway, steal-the-film actor or actors. Case in point: Inglorious Basterds (See review here) when a supporting role's actor took the audience's adoration (and Oscar) away from the golden boy of Hollywood. No surprise runaway in this film. The casting, with the exception of Russell Crowe, is chosen well.

Who to watch for award wins? Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Helena Bonham-Carter, along with Hooper and the picture itself, and the costume and set crews. Perhaps Sacha Baron Cohen, but I would be surprised if Crowe carries off a trophy for this one. Throughout the musical number, of which is the majority of Javert's onscreen time, Crowe seems uncomfortable with singing.

Hooper's non glitzy style has served him well in what could have been an over-polished caricature of the Victor Hugo work. When the 1862 book came out, there was a definite look at the gritty underbelly of the French culture. To have prettied it up for the film would have been morally wrong.

Hooper maximizes the grime and suffering to bring the viewer into the horrific happenstance of Jean Valjean (Jackman) a prisoner for stealing bread to feed his family. Upon serving the 19 years in a prison no one would ever want to behold, Valjean turns his life around, becoming a changed man (along with a changed name) creating a successful life. Unfortunately, he breaks parole in doing so and now is ever watchful for the by-the-book guard-turned Inspector Javert (Crowe)

Jackman's stage background prepares him well for this musical, showcasing his talents of live performances blending well with his movie background. Seamless and believable, we suffer along with Valjean as he trembles in the cold, fears of recapture and feels remorse for his part in the downfall of Fantine (Hathaway).

Fantine's illegitimate, secret child, Cosette, (Amanda Seyfried), is disclosed forcing the penniless and homeless mother to live in the gutters of French society. Selling her hair, teeth and body for money to pay for her daughter's caretakers, Hathaway's remarkable, "I Dreamed a Dream" brought down the house, and brought out the tissues. The closeup of Fantine's face as she weeps her way through the song shares her inner loss of innocence and tortured soul.

When Valjean reaches her deathbed, Fantine dies knowing he will find Cosette, and raise the child as his own, away from the prostitution and degrading circumstances which caused her own early death.

Apart from his labored singing, Crowe is perfect as the unrelenting tracker, Javert's full fury and wrath creating sparks (and spittle) during his musical numbers. Crowe's acting ability is brought to a new level matching against Jackman.
One of the best decisions by Hooper ~ which brings this entire piece of work to the very core of the audience ~ is to have the actors sing live rather than lip sync and dub in later. The performers are much more believable with their voices taxed by the cold, emotions of the moment and the missing safety net, proving reality cannot be faked.

I cannot fathom anyone who could have lightened the mood more than Bonham-Carter with Cohen for the caretakers' scenes. She and Cohen as the scruffy, immoral innkeepers, Thenardiers, bring the audience to tears with laughter, as much as Fantine's meltdown brought the audience to tears with pity.
"Master of the House" is a raucous, filthy good time which describes the couple as the worthless lot they truly are with a tongue-in-cheek romp of a tune.

Between the close ups, the live singing, the plot and the quality of performers used, Hooper has proven once again that there is more than one way to win an Oscar.

Bottom Line: The imperfections are exactly what makes Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" absolutely perfect.

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Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated fine-living, travel columnist, freelance writer and photographer, and performing arts and restaurant critic for Gotta Go. Read Infused, her spirits, wine & beer lifestyle column, at and and catch her as Indy’s Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC. Gotta Go is published on,, an in print. Follow her on Twitter @GottaGo, LinkedIn and Facebook.

1 comment:

Blake Bodenreider said...

Disagree about Crowe. I think he sings exactly as we might expect the strait-laced, unemotional bloodhound to sing. Perhaps his singing is just an extension of his character? I will agree, it's now west End/Broadway quality, but he does well with what he has.